Once in a blue moon
November 18–December 17, 2023
In her prologue poem for the show, the artist Vivien Mohamed invites us to enter the staged reality of the exhibition with a question: “If Earth is Hell, what is death?”
The poem refers to Earth as Hell, which implies that Heaven is absent, and therefore in this frame, the question becomes instead: “Where is death? Does anyone even die?”
Upon entering the space, the viewer is first met with works in different media, which recall the
aesthetics of film props and stills. Everything seems constructed, staged. Their suspicions are
only confirmed in the last room, where finally they discover a trailer for a film.
Vivien Mohamed explores new methods for the visual representation of her poetry, by questioning contemporary modes of poetic distribution. Her work recalls the early history of books. The dissemination of poetry used to be a much more laborious and time consuming process, with the fabrication of books relying on craftspeople, artists and high value materials. Book covers were made from papyrus mâché, or a core of thin wood bound in leather. They were oftentimes elaborately ornate, featuring colored leathers, gilded punched designs, and painted decorations.
Within Ether, which is tattooed on parchment, and A vacuum of an overwhelming size, tattooed on animal skin, Vivien Mohamed tells us about language, by adapting these techniques into her contemporary storytelling. Language itself also becomes a medium for the artist, as in her opening poem, which is written in three different languages: German, Croatian and English. Three languages, three words, a riddle? Death & Drugs & Distraction? The dice on the table reads not three, but four. Only the artist has the answers, as she explains that the word “four”, when pronounced incorrectly in Japanese, can sound like the word for death.
The trailer for Death & Drugs & Distraction tells the story of an Angel, who is trying to help a devastated man in his mid 30s regain his joie de vivre with rather uncommon “hell-like methods”. Will there be death in the end?
Can an exhibition function as the prologue to a film, challenging its visitors to understand its central themes before even seeing a trailer?
Within her film, Vivien Mohamed creates a world filled with items to represent it, like the glasses with the spoons and the little golden bears, and then rebuilds that world within the exhibition context, turning them into art objects for display.
The objects which are exhibited are not the ones actually used in the film, which keeps them from being dismissed as “film props”. They recall the feeling which is now common in the West, of walking through one’s own everyday life and being made to recall films which one has seen, through one’s encounters with certain objects or situations. When cinema itself was first invented, its critics performed scientific experiments with children, and proved the filmmakers’ position of great responsibility when choosing images to disseminate to their audience. The study showed that cinematic experiences lead to emotional responses in the brain which are indistinguishable from those gathered in real life, effectively filling our minds with fake memories.
By blurring the boundaries between exhibition and film, Vivien Mohamed confronts us with the reliability of memory. Memory itself is a questionable mark and therefore constructed many times. The title of the exhibition, once in a blue moon, is a final riddle for the audience to solve.
Text by Elvo Axt, edited by Angel Hafermaas
once in a blue moon – Vivien Mohamed
past, present, future
A vacuum of an overwhelming size
A mosaic of sensations
There’s a demon in my head
If earth is hell, what is death?
Našla sam šta nisam znala i šta sam zazeljila
I see the fox running with a grinning grimace
Die Ruhe vor dem Sturm
Different expressions on different faces
Petrified and engraved
People slightly smiling
Shocked faces, stiff faces
Sam wondered what he would look like
He always imagined a smiling face
People torn from their lives
suddenly, brutally, unintentionally:
Their death mask shows a slight smile on their face,
While those around them shed terrible tears & scream
Will he be shocked? Will the surroundings laugh & scream?
If you look 3 times in a row at the full moon
you will die.